Songs from the Second Floor (2000, Roy Andersson)

“Beloved be the one who sits down.”

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I heard this was a Scandinavian deadpan comedy, so half expected something in the Kaurismaki/Jarmusch vein, tempered by my recent memory of the unexpected Holocaust content in Andersson’s short World of Glory. At first I found this understated to a fault, and not funny at all, but I was fascinated by the composition and content of each scene. Seemed like a depressive view of various social ills (including religion, ha). But I spun the disc again with commentary and caught on to the humor and overall themes. Really, if I had the time and inclination, I should watch EVERY movie twice before talking about it. Ultimately, Songs gets closer to the first half of Playtime than anything else I’ve seen, in terms of directorial obsession with sets and compositions in what’s supposed to be a comedy. But unlike Playtime, this one seems more admirable than enjoyable. Has its moments of pleasure, but when dude is fat, broke, unloved and literally haunted by ghosts at the end it doesn’t send ’em out laughing.

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A magician performs the ol’ saw trick poorly, sending a man to the hospital and leaving him unable to do anything without pain. Government finance ministers lose their paperwork and instead peer into a crystal ball. A young girl is ritually sacrificed at a quarry in front of a thousand spectators. At the airport there’s a slow-motion oversized-luggage exodus. Best of all, military leaders visit the country’s former commander-in-chief in a rest home on his 100th birthday, and the senile man responds to the official-looking activity with a smiling nazi salute, embarrassing everyone in the room.

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Eventually a central character emerges: Kalle, with two sons, one of whom “wrote poetry until he went nuts.” Kalle has burned his business down for the insurance money. He doesn’t seem to have a goal until, pursued by the ghost of a man he owed money, he joins a friend’s doomed business selling Jesus crosses for the millennium. At the end Kalle stands facing us before a Jesus-cross dumping-ground as the ghost plus a hundred others rise from the ground and slowly approach from behind. Andersson definitely has a knack for striking images.

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Andersson, from the commentary:

“This movie is about power, the abuse of power and highhandedness.” I love filmmaker quotes that begin with “this movie is about…”

“I want a scene or a film to surprise the viewer,” he says, exactly as a nude housewife walks into the room.

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“People have wondered how to classify my film. Absurdism or surrealism… what the hell is it? This film introduces a style that I’d like to call ‘trivialism’. Life is portrayed as a series of trivial components. My intention is to touch on bigger, more philosophical issues at the same time. Life is full of trivia, after all.”

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